Running on the mat, useful or not?

In sports halls, the treadmill is one of the machines taken by storm during the winter. A good tool to progress or a simple instrument for the chilly? We take stock.

May 15, 2020

Running isn’t just the great outdoors, encounters with wild animals and the fresh air that stings your face. Running can also be practiced indoors, on a carpet. Rather than frolic outside like a newborn fawn, the runner stays put like a hamster spinning in its wheel. Developed at the beginning of the 20th century, the mat meets several demands: rehabilitation, convenience, adaptability or even comfort and safety. But questions remain: is it really effective? And above all, are there any drawbacks to running on the spot? Doesn’t the adage say that by not moving forward, you end up going backwards?

Today, the device is ubiquitous in weight rooms and even in private homes. Each year, nearly 70,000 are sold in France. As winter comes and we are afraid of hurting an ankle on a dead leaf or that we risk a cold with each draft, the rug offers welcome comfort: “When I see the cold that he did it last week, testifies Vincent, 36, knowing that I have a subscription to the room, I did not hesitate. Direct, I went for a run on the mat. “

More beautiful life and transmission belt
Others, like Isabella, runner regular forties, see in the race within a good way to catch up on episodes of more beautiful life : “In the room, the trouble is relative. We can just as easily get bored outside, when we are doing tours of the field… Indoors, we can watch television, put on a somewhat stupid soap opera to pass the time ”. Among the other advantages, many are linked to the fact of being in an enclosed space: less insecurity, no problem with lighting, no traffic or problem of rain, no gaze of others …

The performance is also affected. Vincent always: “When I run on treadmill, I have the impression of going faster. Printing confirmed by speed shown on monitor. I run at an average of 11 or 12 km / h outdoors and I can go up to 13 on a treadmill, for similar durations ”. This increased speed is explained by the movement of the belt which further pulls the foot. Doctor Eric Laboute, specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the European Sports Rehabilitation Center (CERS) in Capbreton, deciphers the phenomenon: “On the carpet, we have a low stride, due to the winding of the carpet. The vertical progression and the propulsion phase are reduced and the feet are brought back more quickly ”.

There is therefore a real difference in mechanism between running on a treadmill and running outdoors. “The body adapts to the conditions in which it trains ,” says Dr. Laboute. And he gets used to the carpet. You can see it clearly when you get off it: when you start walking again, the sensation is strange. A bit like getting off a bike. ” The legs want to be trained, or it is nothing. These kinds of sensations can also be experienced when leaving an escalator.

From British prisons to sports halls
The conclusion therefore seems clear: running on a mat does not replace strides in the great outdoors. Contrary to what was thought in British prisons in the 19th century, where convicts were made to walk for hours on a treadmill to combat idleness and make them do “useful” work. “On the carpet, the stride is not perfectly natural, adds the specialist . It is always the same, almost too regular. There is no variation, apart from the fact that the exact repetition of a movement may cause boredom ”.Some risks are thus increased, because the joints are used to their little comfort. Sprains can occur if we go too quickly from an intense training indoors to a trail in the forest, for example.

To maximize the benefits of the treadmill, it should be used sparingly. The management of race conditions allows you to create programs adapted to each need. On a mat, you can adjust the speed, the slope and therefore easily adjust the intensity of the exercise. The individualized programs also make it possible to fight against the monotony of the race. You will not see a mountain but you will be able to feel it in the thighs as you increase the degrees of the slope.

To infinity and beyond
The machine’s ability to adapt to humans makes it an essential tool for rehabilitation today. “There are so many possible adjustment variables on a carpet that it is used a lot at the Center,” says Dr. Laboute. It allows to relieve the patient, to make him train gradually. The mat is less traumatic for the joints than asphalt or normal outdoor running ”.
For a healthy individual, the treadmill therefore turns out to be a complementary tool to outdoor running.“You have to integrate the treadmill as an alternative. Even if there is no major contraindication to intensive indoor training, I would recommend running outdoors for pure endurance exercises and reserving the mat for more specific sessions ” . The mat is such an adaptation tool that astronauts use it to simulate the feeling of weightlessness by artificially reducing their body weight. From there to saying that training indoors will make you a potential Thomas Pesquet, there is only one step – small for man but big for mankind.

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